I didn’t write last night, but I had plenty of time. I wasn’t one of the 2,000 Imps fans who travelled to Carlisle for the game, sadly. Still, I was angry at us losing and felt perhaps it was best I stayed away from the keyboard.
Previous engagements, including a wedding, work and dog grooming, meant yesterday was a bridge too far for me. Believe me when I say I was in a foul mood up until kick off, wishing I was there on a sunny afternoon, surrounded by friends. that stands, whatever the result in the end.
At the end of what has been an extraordinary week, it seems that Carlisle were in no mood to play patsy. To be fair, Cheltenham weren’t last week either, but in a straight out eleven against eleven fixture, I believe we would have got a point yesterday. It wouldn’t have been enough as Mansfield turned on the style at Field Mill, but it would have given our fans something to cheer.
I’m going to leap straight in to the contentious incidents. I have watched everything back now (you have to love technology) and the first aspect of the game we have got to talk about is Lee ‘bloody’ Mason. I’ve given him a middle name, like the singer Kevin ‘bloody’ Wilson. The reason? He’s a danger.
Let me be very, very clear. I am not blaming him for our defeat out right. That would be crass in the circumstances and would do no favours to either Carlisle or ourselves. Both sides had the same ref, although he did appear to lean one way. He’d missed a couple of tasty challenges before the first Jason Shackell booking, but if that first card is a yellow we all may as well pack up and go home.
The second challenge is a yellow card. Mason had no choice
The mad five minutes that followed were both Jason Shackell’s fault, and Lee Mason. You see, the second challenge is a yellow card. Mason had no choice, he’d already made his bed with the first soft card, so to he couldn’t possibly let the next one go. He had to send Shackell off. I think the former Derby man has been one of our key players and he’s clearly competitive as his game doesn’t change when he’s on a yellow.
He shouldn’t have ‘shoved’ the fourth official as some wag from Carlisle put it (it wasn’t quite Paulo Di Canio), but he was clearly worked up. Sadly, Lee Mason did have to send him off and that was partly due to his own soft yellow minutes early and majorly due to the fact Jason Shackell gave him no choice.
My major issue comes with virtually everything he did after that moment. His display was erratic, inconsistent and bordering on narcissistic. We thought Mike Dean had a chip on his shoulder at Sincil Bank earlier in the year, but Lee Mason looked as though he finds League Two below his level. Booking Cian Bolger was, to the letter of the law, correct. He did enter the field of play with the express permission of the referee and that’s a yellow, but how does that happen? The fourth official keeps the player there and oversees the transaction, so why did he allow Bolger on? It was a bizarre yellow card that seemed to be the result of a misunderstanding by the officials and yet punished the player.
The rest of the first half seemed a bit flat to be honest. Carlisle didn’t react quickly to us being a man down and we just wanted to get to half time. I could hear the team talk stuck in my car in Boston. ‘Don’t be victims, be fighters’ and all that. Danny ensured none of his players were victims as they came off too, because knowing Mason he was itching to get that yellow card out of his pocket again; just not for a tackle by a player wearing blue, eh?
I know it sounds bitter and you know why? Because the outcome hurts. We lost our unbeaten run in the second half despite a brave and resilient display. No matter what rhetoric you roll out about ‘ten playing better than eleven’, unless the eleven are crap, or the ten simply shut up shop, it doesn’t happen. We didn’t shut up shop, there was still a desire to get forward and yet we defended well. Their goal, when it came, was a hell of a strike. Could Matt Gilks have done better? It’s easy to say watching in back isn’t it?
I’d be loath to heavily criticise any of our players in the second half because the performance clearly warranted something.
I’d be loath to heavily criticise any of our players in the second half because the performance clearly warranted something. They worked incredibly hard, for me (from what I’ve seen), Harry Anderson perhaps deserved Man of the Match for City. Harry’s matured this season but his bullish, direct approach is always useful in away matches when we’re under the cosh. John Akinde has to take some praise too, his qualities are accentuated whenever we’re down to the bare bones too. He works tirelessly chasing those lost causes and holding balls up to buy the other players time.
What truly rankled me in the second half was the challenges that Lee Mason let go. It was as if in the second he’d resolved not to send anyone off and tried as hard as he could to keep it ten against eleven. On the strength of Jason Shackell’s early yellows, we could have had one sent off, them too.
What’s odd is how much the defeat pissed me off. We’re promoted and, barring a calamity, we’ll win the league too. We’re going to be playing League One football next season and we’re in the best shape off the field of my entire life, yet this result still hurt. People on social media were still having a pop at players, not as much as usual but a bit. It proved to me that no matter what a team does, defeat hurts.
I suppose anyone saying ‘it doesn’t matter, we’re still going up’ kinda misses the point. It always matters. 2,000 fans didn’t make the trip up there to watch Lee Mason, nor to shrug their shoulders on the way home. We can take solace from the fact we are still going up, but losing our unbeaten record in those circumstances is tough. Eleven men wearing grey and black draw that game at worst, perhaps win it given the questions we’d asked early doors. Instead, the unbeaten run is set back to square one as is the proud record of scoring in every game since failing to score at Colchester.
Today, I’m at a wedding in Washingborough, but part of me will be reflecting on the result yesterday, lamenting Mason’s performance and perhaps begrudgingly applauding Carlisle who were able to do what so few have done before. Cambridge didn’t beat us with ten men, nor did Northampton and nor did Swindon. They did and they should be given the credit for that, even if the red card was, in my opinion, a little harsh.
There’s that awful saying in football; ‘we go again’. It winds me right up as the stock response to a defeat but, on Easter Monday, we get another chance. We get another stab at creating the golden moment where the whistle could go and we’re crowned champions. We get that glimpse once more of success, that opportunity to pour out our joy and share the moment with our friends at Sincil Bank.
Pull it off and we can forget all about Lee Mason for a few months at least.